Opinion

The Great Debate

A journalistic revolution

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who revealed National Security Agency surveillance leaks from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, dueled this week with former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller over objectivity in journalism. Keller argued that impartiality forces a journalist to test all assumptions. Greenwald, however, countered that impartiality didn’t test assumptions as much as confer authority to each of them. He explained that his new reporting venture, a website funded by eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar, would treat official pronouncements with skepticism.

But while this argument has been taking up a lot of the journalistic oxygen, Paul Thornton, head of the Los Angeles Times letters to the editor section, weighed in recently with a potentially more significant position. Thornton held brief for neither impartiality nor skepticism, but rather for a belief that facts matter — that they can lead to conclusions whether you happen to like those conclusions or not.

Thornton admitted that in his section, he does not run letters claiming there is no human source to global climate warming. Why don’t they run? Because, according to Thornton, “Saying ‘There’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

It should have been the journalistic shot heard ‘round the world, except not many people seem to have heard it. Get this: An editor at a major American newspaper had the temerity to say that on some issues there is such a thing as scientifically verifiable truth. In doing so, he challenged what may be the dominant force in American journalism over the past 30 years — not bias, but that standby of certain university English departments, deconstructionism, which insists there is no such thing as an immutable fact.

An editor championing truth over opinions shouldn’t be an earthquake. But it is. Journalistic extremes have long disregarded fact for ideology. However the bulwarks of American journalism — our mainstream newspapers, websites, magazines, and network news broadcasts — have opted for another principle: Every opinion, no matter how uninformed, deserves equal weight — and journalists dare not come down on one side or the other. It makes balance the new objectivity.

The paradoxes of Christopher Hitchens

By Nicholas Wapshott
The views expressed are his own.

By now, Christopher Hitchens, who has died from esophageal cancer after weeks of radiation treatment at the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, will know whether there is or is not a God. If there is an after-life, we can expect Hitch to arrive in combative mood. His strident atheism, like many of the views that contributed to his reputation as America’s most gifted polemicist, was in its way a peculiar act of faith.

Hitch was paradoxical to the end. In his final piece for Vanity Fair, the magazine that brought out the best of his artful argumentative style matched to his almost flippant name-dropping erudition, he confessed, between searing pain and narcotic oblivion, to wanting “to be fully conscious and awake, in order to ‘do’ death in the active and not the passive sense.” It left some wondering whether he was sharpening his wits to meet God on the other side.

But then Christopher liked to have everything both ways. A bisexual, he enjoyed putting his liberal men friends to the test by kissing them smack on the lips in front of their wives. He lived half his life as a proud and passionate man of the Left before, in middle age, flipping to what he had until then reviled as the dark side of the political spectrum. He was above all, perhaps, an attention seeker, a born contrarian who desperately wanted to become a professional controversialist. In that, he spectacularly succeeded.

Google, google everywhere

CEBIT/The following is a post by Stephen Adler, editorial director of Thomson Reuters professional, that was taken from one of his blog posts at aif.thomsonreuters.com. Adler is a moderator at some of the panels at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which runs through July 11. Thomson Reuters is one of the sponsors of the event. The opinions expressed are Adler’s own.

Do a Google search for David Drummond and you’ll learn, amidst the 211,000 hits, that he is Google’s senior vice president and chief legal counsel. What you won’t learn is that he’s an especially eloquent spokesperson for his employer as it tries to live by its own “Don’t Be Evil” rule in a world of complicated choices. You need to come to the Aspen Ideas Festival to learn that — or you could watch a video of him on You Tube, which is also, of course, owned by Google.

Google is on everyone’s mind because it has so quickly become essential to our lives and a powerful disrupter of orthodoxies. It always seems to be on the front lines, on one side or the other, in big societal battles over such issues as censorship, the right to privacy, the meaning of copyright, the evolution of 21st century antitrust law, the future of the news industry, even the nature of the workplace.

from The Great Debate UK:

Past and present: a correspondent in Iraq

Tim Cocks-Tim Cocks is a Reuters correspondent in Iraq.-

This month we reported that the number of civilians dying violent deaths in Iraq had hit a fresh low since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion -- about 125 for September.

Sounds like a lot, but for a country that only two years ago was seeing dozens of bodies pile up in the streets each day from tit-for-tat sectarian killing, it was definitely progress.

And as I prepare to end my assignment in Iraq this week, I need no argument from numbers to convince me that things are better here than when I arrived in Feb. 2008.

from For the Record:

Dim view of media? Try more transparency

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

This week brought more distressing news for journalists, as a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found the U.S. public more critical than ever of the accuracy and independence of the media.

Only 29 percent of Americans believe that news organisations generally get the facts straight, the survey found, the lowest level in the survey's near quarter-century history.

from The Great Debate UK:

Free may be a radical price, but is it progressive?

padraig_reidy-Padraig Reidy is news editor at Index on Censorship. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Mainstream consumer media is, it is agreed, in trouble. The idea of paying for one or two newspapers a day is now confined, it seems, to quaintly old-fashioned types who boast of their ignorance of the Internet, or business who actually need the information in the pages of the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Wire services’ content is processed so fast by subscribers that one can barely spot the time difference. Local newspapers are seeing their stock in trade diminished. When one’s entire life is catalogued on Facebook and Flickr, there’s little thrill in having your picture in the local paper, or indeed huge necessity in publishing births, deaths and marriages. And why place a classified ad in a newspaper, when we have eBay and Gumtree?

from For the Record:

A is for abattoir; Z is for ZULU: All in the Handbook of Journalism

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

The first entry is abattoir (not abbatoir); the last is ZULU (a term used by Western military forces to mean GMT).

In between are 2,211 additional entries in the A-to-Z general style guide, part of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, which we are now making available online. Also included in the handbook are sections on standards and values; a guide to operations; a sports style guide and a section of specialised guidance on such issues as personal investments by journalists, dealing with threats and complaints and reporting information found on the internet.

from For the Record:

Oscar special: Journalists on film

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

It’s Oscar time, and I’m again reminded of the debt Hollywood and journalists owe each other. Journalists supply Hollywood with great stories and Hollywood sometimes makes us look cool—or at least worth a couple of hours of time and the price of a ticket.

Put aside the fact that a number of Hollywood movies literally are made from the pages of journalism --“Saturday Night Fever,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Adaptation,” to name only a few, were all based on magazine stories. We journalists are also the very characters that Hollywood screenwriters sometimes love.

from For the Record:

After the warm glow, telling the cold, hard truths

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

The president was inaugurated in front of adoring crowds and positive reviews in the media. As the unpopular incumbent sat on the platform with him, the new Democratic chief executive took office as the nation faced a crippling economic crisis. The incoming president was a charismatic figure who had run a brilliant campaign and had handled the press with aplomb. The media were ready to give him a break.

That was 1933, and in Franklin Roosevelt’s case, the media gave him a break.

For Barack Obama, the honeymoon was shorter.

Less than 36 hours after Obama took the oath of office, the White House denied news photographers access to the new president’s do-over swearing in, instead releasing official White House photos of the event. Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse protested and refused to distribute the official photos (which nevertheless showed up on the websites of a number of large U.S. newspapers).

from For the Record:

Twittering away standards or tweeting the future of journalism?

I've been tweeting from the World Economic Forum, using the microblogging platform Twitter to discuss the mundane (describing crepuscular darkness of the Swiss Alps at 5 a.m.) or the interesting (live tweeting from presentations).

Is it journalism?

Is it dangerous?

Is it embarrassing that my tweets even beat the Reuters newswire?

Silicon Valley Insider

Am I destroying Reuters standards by encouraging tweeting or blogging?

(These aren't rhetorical questions - I've been challenged by many people who would answer those questions as No, Yes, Yes, and Yes! I answer them as Yes, Potentially, No and No.)

The foundation of what we do as a company and as a news service are the Reuters Trust Principles.

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